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People at Work glossary of terms

Descriptions of the seven job demands and six job resources measured in the People at Work survey.

Work-related stress

Work-related stress is recognised as a major challenge to worker health and the overall health of an organisation. The stress process describes the physical, psychological, attitudinal, and behavioural reactions of workers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities and/or their resources to do their job.

In Australia, all jurisdictions are covered by work health and safety legislation, which requires that employers, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health. More information about the legislation and how to prevent psychological injuries can be obtained on Safe Work Australia's website. You may also refer to our Mental Health at Work webpages.

If work-related stress becomes excessive and long-lasting it can lead to a range of consequences. For example, work-related stress is associated with poorer physical health, for example cardiovascular problems), and impaired psychological functioning as evidenced by increased anxiety, depression, and burnout. Work-related stress also has been shown to influence worker attitudes, for example job satisfaction and organisational commitment, and worker behaviours, for example absenteeism, turnover, and reduced job performance. Thus apart from legislative requirements, it makes good business sense to prevent or minimise the risks to psychological health because work environments that contain these risks can incur significant human and financial costs.

Work-related stress framework

The People at Work survey uses a framework of psychosocial hazards in the workplace that is based on a number of well-known models of work-related stress. These include the job-demands resources model [1], the Job Demand-Control-Support Model [2], and the Effort-Reward Imbalance Model [3].

The psychosocial hazards in the framework can be grouped into two categories, job demands and job resources. Job demands can be classified as work pressures that have negative implications for the psychological well-being of workers. These job demands can include specific task factors and interpersonal factors.

Job resources can be classified as 'protective factors' that have positive implications for the psychological well-being of workers. The availability of job resources also can act to reduce the level of strain experienced by workers by assisting them to cope with job demands that are not easily remedied.

In the work-related stress literature, high levels of job demands and low levels of job resources have been a focus of a significant amount of research, with the view these have a detrimental effect on psychological health in the workplace. The seven job demands and six job resources measured in the People at Work survey are described below.

Psychosocial hazards

Job demands

High levels of these psychosocial hazards are shown to be detrimental to psychological health
1. Role overload Role overload occurs when an individual feels pressured by excessive workloads, difficult deadlines, and a general inability to fulfil organisational expectations in the time available.
2. Role ambiguity Role ambiguity is defined as the lack of clarity or uncertainty with respect to job responsibilities, or the perceived lack of important job-related information. Unclear or constantly changing specifications regarding expectations and duties defining an individual's job also constitutes role ambiguity.
3. Role conflict Role conflict reflects the degree to which workers are expected to perform two or more mutually exclusive tasks simultaneously, and has been described as incompatible demands and expectations placed on a worker, by different groups or persons with whom an individual must interact.
4. Cognitive demand Cognitive demand is defined as the degree to which an individual must engage in cognitive monitoring and attentiveness in order to meet the demands of the role. Cognitive demand is not always a strong predictor of worker strain in isolation, but often works in combination with other job demands to heighten worker strain.
5. Emotional demand Emotional demand occurs when workers are confronted with emotionally taxing, upsetting, or disturbing situations inherent in the job that impact on them personally, and is particularly prominent in jobs that involve interactions with customers or clients.
6. Group task conflict Group task conflict refers to disagreements with one's colleagues regarding the work to be undertaken. Such conflict may involve differences in views about policies and procedures, disputes regarding allocation and distribution of resources, or disagreements in judgements and interpretation of facts.
7. Group relationship conflict Group relationship conflict refers to interpersonal disagreements and frictions with one's colleagues arising from differences in personal style, values, and norms.
Psychosocial hazards

Job resources

Low levels of these psychosocial hazards are shown to be detrimental to psychological health
1. Job control Job control is the degree to which a worker has the discretion to approach their work in a manner of their choosing. It reflects a worker's capacity to manage his or her activities at work, including choice of work tasks, methods of work, work pacing, work scheduling, control over resources, and control over the physical environment.
2. Supervisor support Supervisor support consists of both 'instrumental' support and 'emotional' support. Instrumental support refers to offering practical help to solve problems or providing tangible assistance or aid in the form of knowledge or advice needed to resolve the issue, whereas emotional support involves offering care or listening sympathetically to another person.
3. Co-worker support Co-worker support can be instrumental or emotional in nature. Instrumental support refers to practical help to solve problems or tangible assistance or aid in the form of knowledge or advice needed to resolve the issue, whereas emotional support involves care or listening sympathetically to another person.
4. Praise and recognition Praise and recognition refers to a worker's feelings of self-worth that grow from the perception that the organisation and the people they work for value them and what they have to offer. Praise and recognition from supervisors can be in the form of encouragement, compliments, and other gestures of appreciation.
5. Procedural justice One type of organisational justice is procedural justice and refers to workers' perceptions of the fairness of the formal policies, procedures, and processes used to arrive at decisions and achieve end-goals and other outcomes.
6. Change consultation Change consultation refers to the degree to which workers are provided with information about organisational changes and provided the opportunity to participate in decisions that may affect their work.

Bakker, A. B.,  Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22, 309-328.

Karasek, R. A.,  Theorell, T. G. (1990). Healthy work: Stress, productivity, and the reconstruction of working life. New York: Basic Books.

Siegrist, J. (1996). Adverse health effects of high effort-low reward conditions at work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1, 27-43.